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Aid Groups Scrambling to Stem Cholera in Yemen

Women are treated for suspected cholera infection at a hospital in Sana'a, Yemen, Mar. 28, 2019.
Women are treated for suspected cholera infection at a hospital in Sana'a, Yemen, Mar. 28, 2019.

Aid agencies are springing into action to prevent another devastating cholera epidemic in Yemen as cases of this deadly disease continue to increase in this conflict-ridden country.

Since the beginning of the year, the United Nations reports more than 109,000 suspected cases of cholera, including nearly 200 deaths in Yemen. Children represent 27 percent of the total number of suspected cases.

The Yemeni people and health workers are still reeling from the devastation caused by the cholera epidemic that engulfed the country over the past two years. The outbreak that erupted in April 2017 is the worst in recorded history. It affected more than 1.2 million people, killing more than 2,500.

The World Health Organization reports 239 districts in Yemen have reported suspected cholera cases within the last four weeks. WHO spokesman, Tarik Jasarevic, cited the many reasons behind the spike in cases.

“First maybe there is an increased awareness and that leads to increased willingness to seek care and testing. Surveillance has been enhanced, boosting sensitivity. Many of the affected districts do not have or there is no maintenance to sewage disposal systems. Untreated sewage water is being used for irrigation in farming. The use of sewage for fertilization of crops.”

Jasarevic said the early arrival of the rainy season and the large movements of internally displaced people will further increase the number of suspected cholera cases.

Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease that can kill within hours if left untreated. It is caused by a bacterium found in contaminated food and water. Up to 80 percent of cases can be successfully treated with oral rehydration solution. Severe cases will require intravenous fluids and antibiotics.

WHO and partners are scaling up operations to try to contain the spread of this deadly disease. They have set up 413 diarrhea treatment centers and oral rehydration centers in 147 priority districts. They are stockpiling emergency water, sanitation and hygiene supplies. They say more than 400,000 people have received oral cholera vaccines in several districts.

The U.N. children’s fund and WHO are calling for the lifting of all restrictions on their humanitarian operations. They say they must have full access to every child, woman and man in need of medical and other aid to bring this outbreak to an end.